When Supply Doesn’t Meet Demand

I’ve spent a lot of time in this blog discussing housing options for Third Chapter Living, including various ways to age in place through ADUs (or “granny flats”), cohousing, tiny houses, and adapting a family homestead to be aging ready. But with the housing shortage I discussed last week, options can seem limited. Currently, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that only 1 in 10 existing U.S. homes are aging ready. The gap between supply and demand is extraordinarily high, and there isn’t just one quick fix. Let’s take a look at the options.

A Quick Note on History

Many people remember the neighborhoods their grandparents were part of — urban or transitional, with various types of housing all existing together. Today’s co-housing communities and the urban village movement are an attempt to recreate those neighborhoods. Post World War II, construction focus shifted. With the development of sprawling, car-dependent, suburban living, there was money to be made on large, single-family homes with spacious lawns, and the old co-housing neighborhoods fell out of favor. Today, experts call this phenomenon the “missing middle.”

With the influx of not only Baby Boomers, but also the older Gen-Xers right on our heels, the shortage of available, affordable housing for people 55+ is magnified. Some communities are working on solutions, and most of the solutions involve changing policies, zoning laws … and attitudes!

ADUs

In places like Oregon and California, several communities are working to encourage the construction of ADUs — whether stand-alone or connected to an existing house — to help ease the lack of affordable housing. On the surface, ADUs seem perfect: they are flexible and can easily accommodate older adults and/or family caregivers or home-care workers. Building an ADU commonly costs in the low-to-middle six figures. But there are ways to make ADUs more affordable.

In San Diego, for example, the Affordable ADU Bonus Program allows homeowners to put multiple ADUs on their property. Affordability? One of every two must be maintained as low-income or affordable housing for a given number of years.

Several cohousing communities also have sprung up in the Northwest. They often consist of private townhomes, duplexes, and triplexes that are grouped around shared spaces and amenities. Most are small. Bridge Meadows in Portland, for example, boasts 36 apartments of varying sizes, and people of varying ages and socio-economic backgrounds live there.

But the problem with both options, especially in the suburbs, is that zoning laws routinely prohibit development of ADUs and cohousing communities. Requirements like space between dwellings, and parking and occupancy rules, often become difficult hurdles for builders to overcome.

A Multi-Faceted Approach

A September 2023 New York Times article suggests that for affordable housing options to increase, local design standards need to be clarified and the approval process needs to be streamlined. In short: it needs to be easier to build and occupy housing that meets the emerging needs of older adults.

Change also is needed at the federal level. In April of this year, the FHA proposed reforming its guidelines to ease the burden of obtaining loans for ADUs or housing that already include one. But more reform is needed, especially for helping to increase the construction of all types of affordable housing.

As Rodney Harrell, a vice president at AARP’s Public Policy Institute, told the Times, “We need a Swiss Army knife approach, with lots of different tools.”

Local attitudes need to change as well. “NIMBY-ism” (not in my back yard) needs to replaced by a willingness of communities to come together and create walkable, accessible neighborhoods for a diverse population of people, from the very young to the very young at heart. Many of the options that I’ve mentioned with seniors in mind also can be expanded to benefit everyone. And when we all look out for each other, good things will happen.

One thing is for sure: as Harrell says, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. It will take creativity, community, and multiple variations of these options to create the housing solutions to enable all of us to live vibrant Third Chapter Lives.

Third Chapter Living celebrates, challenges, informs and promotes conversations about housing issues affecting the Baby Boomer Generation. Check out our website to learn more about our work on aging in place options. The author, Reese Fayde, is a dedicated problem solver and skills development coach. She’s passionate about working with change-makers — individuals committed to transforming the status quo, whether it’s in their industry, community, or organization.

4 Comments

  1. Sara Jean Lindholm on October 2, 2023 at 12:04 pm

    I would love to live in one of those ADU’s…..

    • Reese Fayde on October 9, 2023 at 1:51 pm

      And compare the time and cost to create tax credit units…..or the vanised 202s. Lots of creative design, occupancy and financing tools needed. Is this what urban strategies looks like now?

  2. Susan Stockard on October 2, 2023 at 1:42 pm

    ADU’s and tiny homes are appealing to me as a “next step” option. I wonder if the idea of living in their back yard is appealing to my kids…another attitude shift!

    • Reese Fayde on October 9, 2023 at 1:54 pm

      The alternatives likely are even less appealing……

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